Israel-China film festival to bridge two ancient cultures

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A first-time film festival that spotlights the connections between China and Israel — a relationship that has existed for generations — opens next week in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

Part of the Bay Area’s Israel China Cultural Festival, the film festival offerings explore immigration, faith, anti-Semitism, adoption, heritage and identity. They are part of a rich, monthlong lineup — a collaboration among a host of local Jewish and Asian organizations — that has included lectures, art, dance and storytelling.

Liat Dahan, director of cultural affairs at the Consulate General of Israel, said she hopes the five films will illustrate the commonalities shared by the two ancient cultures. “All of our programs, our films, our exhibitions, everything we have in the festival is actually a symbol for this connection,” she said.

In “Noodle,” a child is taken under the wing of an El Al flight attendant.

Stephen Gong, executive director of the Center for Asian American Media in San Francisco, also sees the festival as a chance for the two communities to explore the relationship and learn about one another. “Film is a unique way to bridge different cultures,” Gong said. “People can really celebrate deep connections at this event.”

With all of the films being shown in Chinatown, Gong hopes newer immigrants will come to the screenings. “There’s been a renewed influx of immigrants from all over China [to Chinatown], and it’s a more vibrant community,” he said. “We would love to attract these newer Asian American community members and show them that there’s a rich cultural tradition here.”

The festival kicks off with an afternoon showing of “Ushpizin,” the story of an Orthodox Jewish couple in Jerusalem who pray for a child on Sukkot and then must deal with the unexpected aftermath. The film, in Hebrew and Yiddish with Chinese subtitles, will be shown 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 26 at the public library’s Chinatown branch.

Shaul Mizrahi (left) and Ilan Ganani in “Ushpizin,” which will kick off the festival.

The official opening-night film is “Noodle,” about an El Al flight attendant tasked with reuniting a Chinese boy with his recently deported migrant-worker mother, while dealing with language and cultural divides. The comedy-drama, in Hebrew and Chinese with English subtitles, screens 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 27 at the Great Star Theater Chinatown. Jewish comedian Jeff Applebaum, whose wife is Chinese, follows with a 10 p.m. standup performance.

Three documentaries will be shown Thursday, June 28. “The Port of Last Resort” tells of the 20,000 European Jews who fled to Japanese-occupied Shanghai between 1937 and 1941 and shows their struggles adapting to and living in a foreign society. Thousands of European Jews learned to build new lives in the city while maintaining their Jewish identities. “Port” shows at 7 p.m. at the Great Star.

Concluding the festival that night is a double feature: the award-winning “Wo Ai Ni Mommy” (“I Love You Mommy”) and “Starring David.” The films screen at 9 p.m.

The 90-minute “Mommy” focuses on a New York Jewish family’s experience adopting an 8-year-old Chinese girl — from the process of bringing her from China to the challenges of helping her to acclimate to her new American life.

The 20-minute “David” tells of a 12-year-old boy in the Netherlands who yearns to have a bar mitzvah and be recognized as fully Jewish, even though by his own admission he’s “well … almost Jewish.” Because his Chinese mother isn’t Jewish, neither is David, according to Jewish law. Gong says the film “leaves you with a rich appreciation for finding identity.”

Film festival tickets are $8-$10, except for “Ushpizin,” which is free. A combined ticket for the three documentaries is $13-$15. www.israelchinasf.com